Long before he confronted a heavily armed gunman on a French train bound for Paris, Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone’s mates in Air Force training courses had nicknamed him after a comic book superhero.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said Monday that the medical technician from Carmichael, Calif., had already won a reputation for his valor and gung-ho attitude.
“Last Friday, as you know, evil arrived in the form of a heavily armed gunman on a high-speed passenger train in Europe; a gunman who brandished an AK-47, hundreds of bullets, a Luger pistol and a box-cutter,” James told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.
“What the gunman didn’t expect, however, was a confrontation with our very own ‘Captain America,’” James said. “And believe it or not, that is what Airman Stone’s friends nicknamed him during Air Force technical training.”
James, who noted that she’d spoken earlier in the day with Stone and his mother, said that the 23-year-old would be nominated for the Airman’s Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the Air Force for noncombat.
Their fearlessness, courage and selflessness should inspire all of us.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James
James also praised Stone’s longtime friends – Anthony Sadler, a senior at California State University in Sacramento, and Army National Guard Specialist Alek Skarlatos, who had just served in Afghanistan – for helping subdue alleged gunman Ayoub El-Khazzani, a Moroccan national.
And she heralded British businessman Chris Norman, who jumped into the fray.
“Had it not been for this heroic quartet, I’m quite sure that today we would be sitting here discussing a bloodbath,” James said.
Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, said Stone, whose thumb was almost severed and who received arm and neck injuries in the train struggle, might be eligible for a Purple Heart, the award U.S. service members receive for being wounded in combat, if the French government determines that the train attack was an act of terrorism.
European intelligence and law enforcement agencies have said in recent days that they had sent out alerts about El-Khazzani because of his links to radical Islamic groups. Welsh said he and other Air Force leaders were looking for guidance to the deadly 2009 attack at Fort Hood, Texas, where Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a military psychiatrist, fatally shot 13 people and injured 31 others.
Hasan’s August 2013 court martial, which sentenced him to death, revealed his jihadist ties. The Pentagon initially classified his crime as an act of workplace violence, but under pressure from members of Congress and families of the victims, the military members who were wounded or killed by Hasan later received Purple Hearts.
Asked whether Stone might be considered for a Silver Star or a Bronze Star, U.S. military honors for exceptional valor, Welsh rejected the idea.
“This is a not a combat action, so it doesn’t qualify as we see it,” he said.
James, however, said there is no doubt that Stone and his friends are heroes.
“Airman Stone and his friends personified service before self, no question about it,” she said. “Their fearlessness, courage and selflessness should inspire all of us. Thanks to them, no one died on that high-speed European train on Friday.”
James Rosen: 202-383-0014; @jamesmartinrose